Monday, March 27, 2006

"No guts, no glory"

Robert Novak has exposed a very good idea in today's column.

How to erase earmarks

Before they left town for the St. Patrick's Day recess, 10 U.S. senators gathered around President Bush at the White House to hear him make the case for a line-item veto. But Sen. Jim DeMint, a freshman Republican from South Carolina, had a better idea for the president: Why not instruct your department heads to ignore the earmarks Congress adds to your budget?

DeMint was not encouraging Bush to take the law into his own hands and defy statutes passed by Congress. A March 6 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) said more than 95 percent of all earmarks were not written into law but were merely contained in the reports of congressional committees and legislative managers. "Earmarks that appear in committee reports and the statements of managers do not legally bind agencies," said the report.

The president did not respond to DeMint at the meeting, and that signifies opposition to the idea. Administration officials have flinched from any such confrontation with Congress. But this exercise of executive power by a president who has yet to use his veto would go a long way toward controlling runaway federal spending. In contrast to a dubious quest for a line-item veto, Bush with a brief order could change the climate of spending on Capitol Hill.
Bush might well measure the benefits of bold action. If they are required to submit earmarks for floor action by the Senate and House, the lawmakers' ability to overspend would be diminished. From a political standpoint, DeMint is giving the president the opportunity for a dramatic gesture showing that he really cares about spending. By all appearances, Bush won't take it.


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